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Do human rights activists hate Imran Khan because he is not a leftist?

Published: November 26, 2014

Imran may not be your typical human rights activist, but he is one all right. One of the best. PHOTO: AFP

The young girl who works as domestic help for me said,

Baji, do you know why our men don’t want Imran Khan to come into power? It is because they are scared that women in the villages will gain strength if he becomes our prime minister. Already, he supports women standing up for their rights. The jalsas are a proof of this. But we will make sure he wins. We are by his side.”

This was the morning after Imran gave an inspiring and honest talk from his container as PTI celebrated “Justice for Women Day”. I had heard that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) would be celebrating this day a few weeks earlier from a friend who is active in PTI, and a close aid of Imran. I had asked her if the date, November 25th, had been chosen to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

“Really? It’s the same day? I’m not sure. You know how PTI works. We do what feels right, for the rights of the downtrodden. Doesn’t matter if it’s a special day or not.”

My default setting had taken over, and I had asked her if they had invited any known human rights’ activists for the occasion. She smiled and said,

“They don’t like us very much you know.”

As a human rights activist and a journalist who reports passionately on human rights and has friends from the field, I also support PTI’s stances on most things, if not all, and look up to Imran as a real hope for Pakistan, as a sincere leader, a philanthropist and humanist. The two things seem like opposites, which is why for a while I procrastinated writing this blog because it would mean choosing sides. Only, the traction is interesting, because I am clearly on both sides.

As for Imran, I see him as a proponent of human rights. He may not be the stereotypical human rights activist of Pakistan, and may not fit the niche group. But he stands up for the underdog, always. And that is what human rights work essentially is – to stand up for the marginalised and vulnerable communities – women, children, minorities, people in conflict zones, people suffering from injustice, people who don’t have money to pay hospital bills and send their children to good schools. The man stands up for social equality. His humanitarian work is a reflection of his belief in equal rights for all.

What then is the problem? Why won’t the human rights activists accept him and his work? They love Shaukat Khanum Hospital and Namal College, but certain things he said and did seem to have ruffled just the right (or left) feathers.

Being the advocate of both the devil and the angel (and I do not know who is who in this case), there are certain things at play here. For starters, while people like Edhi and Chiipa, and organisations like Alamgir Welfare Trust and even Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) social welfare wing’s efforts are lauded, they are seen as ‘humanitarian’ efforts. Human rights and their advocacy are seen as a different animal in Pakistani society, and over its history of more than six decades, a certain niche group of people have started being associated with this in the country. They are, in fact, seen as the stake holders of human rights. And with the package come certain pre-requisites. You have to be leftist, or left-off-centre, or at least completely secular, and be someone who does not bring religion into any talk of human rights.

I recall at a recent moot about women-friendly legislation where I was a panellist, a suggestion was floated that following the example of Indonesia, local Imams and clergy members be sensitised to women’s rights, and this be made a part of primary education. At this point, a very known and respected human rights activist who has contributed much to the country stood up in rage,

“What has religion got to do with this? Why must we bring God into everything?”

As much as we tried to explain that this could be done for all religious sects and leaders of minority communities could also be brought on board to fight evils like domestic violence, her reaction remained angry, till the organisers promised that the idea would be dropped.

Imran, in comparison, is clearly centrist in his approach. He cites examples from the life of the second righteous Caliph, Hazrat Umar (RA) and is clear that his dream is that “Pakistan should be an Islamic welfare state with equal rights for all”. In October this year, he dared to question the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) regarding where their funding comes from. Imran’s take is that anyone and everyone should be open to being questioned. But the reaction, not surprisingly, was “how dare he”, given the truly amazing work that has come out of HRCP for the people of Pakistan. This came as a retort to the HRCP saying that Imran and his party’s sit-ins are distracting from more important human rights issues. Add to it the very open issues between the Imran Khan camp and the Asma Jahangir camp. There is a history here, which I wish to leave aside. But the fact remains that this situation has added yet another dimension to the polarisation in Pakistani society.

The human rights camp remains unforgiving of Imran’s earlier stances on many issues, for example his earlier take on certain women-friendly legislations, or his openness to the idea of talking with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). His present softer stances are seemingly not enough for them to give him a chance and work hand in hand for a better future for Pakistanis.

This leaves people like me in a predicament, people who see sincerity on both sides; people who feel bridges should be built between both sides.

It is ironic that I am writing this a day after my paper published a report by human rights group Reprieve, stating that the CIA killed a whopping 221 people, including 103 children, in Pakistan in the hunt for just four men, and that 24 men were reported killed or targeted multiple times; missed strikes on these men killed 874 other people, and account for the 35% of all confirmed civilian casualties in Pakistani drone strikes. The humanist in me cannot write-off Imran as a humanitarian as well as a human rights activist, knowing that he took the strongest stance against “collateral damage” in drone attacks, which is a gross violation of human rights, and his work in the field of public health, education and his stand against injustice.

We live in times where things are neither simplistic nor black and white. If Pakistan has any hopes of uplifting the downtrodden in our society, the thing to do is to appreciate whatever good is being done by any one, whether from the left, the right or the centre. Imran has and is doing a lot of good for our people and stands up for their rights. He may not be your typical human rights activist, but he is one all right. One of the best.

What is Abdul Sattar Edhi going to do now?

 

Published: October 21, 2014

And so it goes. Edhi abbu he is. A father figure for Pakistanis. PHOTO: Screen shot from ‘Seerat 4: Philanthropist – Abdul Sattar Edhi – by Ali Kapadia’

There’s something about Abdul Sattar Edhi that makes Pakistanis feel safe… almost protected, like a child feels with a parent around. He is old and frail and sickly. But he is there. He is alive. And till he is alive, we have hope. We have hope that goodness prevails, and that there exist those we can look up to.

With Edhi around, we have an elder.

This August 14th, I happened to celebrate Pakistan’s Independence Day with children from the Edhi home who were attending an event held for them.

“Edhi abbu got us these clothes for Youm-e-Azadi,” said a 14 year old, smugly flaunting a bright green shirt and white pants and shoes, the pants with bits of grass and soil smudged on to it as the kid was sitting on the lawn.

And so it goes. Edhi abbu he is. A father figure for Pakistanis.

The man is one person the country’s leftists and rightists and centrists agree on. Thus, Edhi has done more than raise abandoned babies and feed the hungry and lift laawaris laashain. He has not built bridges – he IS a bridge in an otherwise exceedingly polarised society. Pakistanis are like estranged siblings a lot of times; we are united in our gratitude towards Edhi abbu.

The common responses to Edhi and his staff being held on gunpoint and looted of gold and cash worth around Rs 30million had reactions that went like this:

“Speechless.”

“Don’t know what to say.”

“Edhi hum sharminda hain.”

“ Edhi Sahab we don’t deserve you.”

“May those who did this to you rot in hell.”

The most heart-wrenching was him saying in an interview,

“I am heartbroken.”

The nation’s intelligentsia and literati are still reeling from the post-Noble Prize discussionsover whether Malala deserved the prize or not. And those who were from the Malala camp saw this as an opportunity to even scores with those who had dared to question the young girl’s win and had dared to say that Edhi would have been a more deserving candidate.

“Why don’t all those who wanted Edhi to win make up for his loss now?” was a common sentiment on the vent-ground called Twitter.

But then, what do we expect from a people that have been through what Pakistanis have?

The marauders, mind you, were a sample part of the whole. And the whole has suffered, and continues to. There is corruption, insecurity and a lack of governance and that is costing us lives, honours and sanities.

A few examples stating the obvious: we lose 92000 children annually to Pneumonia because they do not have access to a vaccine that can save them. In the last one month we have seen40 plus new cases of Polio. In 2013, 1600 plus Pakistani women were killed in the name of honour. Just last month, a girl withdrew charges of gang rape against a minster’s sons. Ourmaternal mortality rates are almost the highest in the region. Some one million IDPs have dimming hopes of returning home before harsh winter sets in. Our mothers kill their childrenand commit suicide as the hunger is too much, and at the other end our affluent class bathes in wealth. Our politicians continue to pledge service to the masses in public, and continue to spew powerful narratives that fuel anger. Ironically, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Karachi jalsaand the promised historic speech was hours ahead of Edhi Sahib being looted, and was a case in point.

We are an angry, intolerant nation. And those dacoits were a part of us. Why, then, the naive surprise? They saw money, and they decided to loot it. It was may be too trusting of Edhi Sahab to think they would not do this to him. He should have learnt a thing or two from our political leaders and kept the money somewhere no one can touch it. Money is money. It’s tempting, everyone wants it, and is out to get it. And in this quest, they are not even going to spare a man who is an emblem of humanity.

So what is Abdul Sattar Edhi going to do now?

Well, he is going to do exactly what he has been doing. He will pick up the pieces of a broken heart, and continue to try and put in his share of healing the aches and pains of humanity, as a good Pakistani and as a human par excellence. If we have any respect for him and have learnt anything from him, then we must do the same. We cannot let hope wilt, and cannot become jaded cynics saying “nothing’s going to get better”.

I can make myself better, can’t I?

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/24492/what-is-abdul-sattar-edhi-going-to-do-now/

When one starts questioning the rituals of Eidul Azha

Published: October 6, 2014

The poor animals being slaughtered actually provide livelihood to millions of poor Pakistanis who wait eagerly for this Eid to sell off the cattle they have raised all year round. PHOTO: FILE

Eidul Azha in a rural set-up has jarring differences when compared to how we celebrate this Eid in cities. I live and celebrate my Eid in Karachi, but if I celebrate it in my ancestral village in Khairpur, Sindh, this is what would be different.

The animals would be much less expensive, much more readily available, and the sense of community in sharing the meat would be the focus. Less affluent neighbours and relatives will casually come to the house where an animal is sacrificed and ask candidly for a share of the meat. The ones giving it out will not look down on the ones asking for it. There are fewer formalities and lesser ego issues involved, something that urbane sensibilities take away.

But perhaps the best thing about celebrating this Eid in my village is that no one questions the ritual. In an urban, more “aware” world, we question everything. But when each religious ritual is questioned, its efficacy is doubted and its methodology is demeaned, we are actually getting ahead of ourselves. A classic example is what we here every year:

“Why not do away with this ritual of animal sacrifice?”

The reasons given are many. The fact that this ritual involves blood and “gore” and millions of poor animals end up losing their lives, and so the ritual is too violent. The fact that the stench, the organs, the blood (yes, the blood is a pet peeve) and the slaughter waste makes our entire cities abattoirs. And the most classic one is that the same money could be used to help the needy with their more urgent needs.

“Why not pay a poor child’s yearly school fee, rather than spending the same money on slaughtering a goat?”

The answers to above criticisms are quite simple, really.

The problem is not with so many animals being slaughtered, but with the fact that our cities in Pakistan are not equipped with the infrastructure to dispose the slaughter waste on this day, or any day actually. Our anger is misdirected at the ritual, whereas the problem lies with the lack of civic sense in our citizens in how they dispose the slaughter waste. Here, we stumble upon a bigger issue – the fact that being a good citizen that does not harm others is a basic tenet of Islam, but is sadly not seen as one. But just because people break traffic signals, we cannot stop using cars on streets. Similarly, the ritual cannot be done away with because of the fault of some.

The poor animals being slaughtered actually provide livelihood to millions of poor Pakistanis who wait eagerly for this Eid to sell off the cattle they have raised all year round. Try and explain to the shepherds who travel to Karachi from Tharparkar and to Lahore from villages in Rahimyar Khan that you think this ritual should be done away with. The reaction may surprise you.

What’s interesting is that most of the people criticising the ritual are avid meat-eaters all year round. It is not like they moved to being vegetarians and vegans. They love their ‘bong ki nihari’ and ‘mutton pulao’, but have a problem with this, giving reasons from environmental imbalance to being unkind towards nature.

The ritual is mandatory for those who can afford to sacrifice an animal. In today’s era of inflation, if a person can afford to spend on an animal’s sacrifice once a year, then that person can for sure spend on paying a child’s fee for school too. Why are the two things mutually exclusive? Why must I choose one?

But who are we kidding? The above given reasons, both for and against this ritual, are logical. And religion, worship, and most of all faith, cannot be explained by logic. Humans are innately selective in the logic they choose to strengthen what they already believe in.

Muslims, who unquestioningly carry on this ritual, or any ritual of faith, may have understood that salvation lies in trusting how the Mastermind has designed religion. He created us and He knows what works for us. Sitting and meditating is great but can never replace the five daily prayers. A nature hike may be great for your soul but can never have the effect that sa’ee between the perpetually overcrowded Safa and Marwa in the hot city of Makkah does. And if I spend money to help a needy (which I must, as charity is both a ritual and a purification exercise), it’s a great thing to do, but will not have the same effect as sacrificing an animal on this day.

In this act, I feel an affinity with that act of Prophet Ibrahim (AS). As someone who has genetic hemophobia and cannot stand the sight of blood, it’s not an easy ritual. But then, acts of love and leaps of faith never really are easy.  As mentioned in the Holy Quran, it is not the flesh or blood of animals that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him. The biggest part of piety is handing over one’s reigns to Allah, and saying, “You Know best”. Accepting one’s human limitations of understanding when compared with Divine wisdom – that, my friends, is the ultimate sacrifice.

5 reasons I still support Imran Khan

It is sad that even the brightest of us have so resigned to the fact that the system in Pakistan is corrupt that it has, over time, become a non-issue. For me, integrity is a huge issue. And that is what is unquestionable about this man.

At least once a day, I am asked,

“You support Imran Khan? Seriously?”

It is mainly because I do not fit the stereotypical image people have about PTI people. Emotional, young, immature and what we call “trolls”. I like to think I am none of these. Very few in my field of work are open about their political tilts, if any. Maybe because there is a remote chance it may interfere with journalistic objectivity. However, I have been very clear since day one. Anything I report will say the truth and nothing but the truth. Even if it goes against the Khan. Blogs, tweets and social media are based on purely personal opinions, and hence are a different matter.

The next remark usually is a grin followed by,

“Aah. You are one of Killer Khan’s female fans smitten by him.”

While I do not deny admiring Khan as one of the most charismatic men in Pakistan, this is certainly not the reason he got my vote or why I support him. People have to start giving people with differing views more credit.

The last week or more has been a trial for Khan’s supporters, me included. His very off-beat brand of politics has had Pakistanis who were never in favour of him smugly say,

“See! We always knew it would come to this.”

Jokes about his questionable political wisdom (I can already hear readers saying “does he have any?”), the “unusual” jalsas with an aura of festivity, and Khan’s very ad hoc, and at times incoherent and repetitive, speeches have not made it easier for supporters like me. It is not easy explaining why someone has moved from believing in PPP as the party that deserves the vote to PTI. But that debate is for another day.

As regards this man, undisputedly a national hero, there are very few who have centrist feelings. People either admire him to an extent that they become rude “trolls” in his defence, or write him off and are so put off by him that they react by laughing at him and at everyone who supports him. It is doubly difficult for his supporters who continue to support the man but question and disagree with certain decisions he has taken. I am one of those many. And openly so. Others from Pakistan’s intelligentsia prefer to stay under cover, because the amount of mockery you get from non-PTI trolls for being a PTI supporter is immense.

I disagree with Khan on many grounds. I disagree that he and his ministers resigned. I disagree that he is not budging on his demand of Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. I disagree with the words he sometimes uses, in a spell of euphoria and emotion. And these are just a few points.

Yet, I continue to support him and trust him.

All the mockery has not made me give up on him and his vision. The reasons are many, but here are the five major reasons why Imran Khan is still the only politician I continue to believe in.

1) He is not after the money

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is no mean feat. We, as a nation, are unfortunate that we are in a system that is steeped in corruption and bribery. That is a critical and basic problem with what’s wrong with Pakistan. And this attitude of “le de kar kaam chalao” starts from the top and trickles down at every level. A wonderful journalist friend who is very anti-Khan politically, but has worked with him on projects regarding Shaukat Khanum, once said,

“I will never vote for Khan. But I would trust him blindly with my money.”

For how many politicians in Pakistan can you say that?

It is sad that even the brightest of us have so resigned to the fact that the system in Pakistan is corrupt that it has, over time, become a non-issue. For me, integrity is a huge issue. And that is what is unquestionable about this man.

2) He is who he is

I admit that the man is not perfect, like all humans. He can irk the best of us the wrong way with never-ending cricket analogies that sometimes backfire. But he is who he is. Call it naivety, but how does one trust the “seasoned politicians”? Either you love Imran Khan, or you hate him, because at least you know what he is. As a voter, I have a connection with the political leader I vote for. I must know what he stands for and who he is. For someone who has little patience for hypocrisy, Khan is a natural choice.

3) His is not the politics of violence

Khan does not have a history of having had people punished brutally or beaten or attacked. The worst mudslinging his opposition can come up with is that he has been a ladies’ man, and that they don’t cease to remind the world about. But this man has not been involved in any indirect or direct criminal activity that ever harmed or took another human’s life.

4) He leads from the front

Khan’s courage is unquestionable. Barring a bullet-proof jacket, the man hardly has any security. His well-wishers often worry about him for this reason, but he is the fearless man that he is. This faith gives his supporters faith. Those who would use others as their shield do not inspire me to support them. He also is always the first to walk the talk.

5) He has truly served the nation

This one man has helped saved millions of lives in this country. Is that a small thing? People criticise him a lot for what they call his “self-absorbed” behaviour. Yet, this man has selflessly and tirelessly worked for public health and education of the under-privileged. For that, not only is the nation indebted, but I know what his priorities will be if he gets the reigns of the government of this country for an undisturbed five years.

It is sad that as a nation we have become so used to being led by people that lack these qualities that for us, dishonesty and corruption is acceptable, but a straightforward and sincere leader with much less serious mistakes is lambasted. Our leaders are a reflection of who we are. Time to choose our loyalties carefully.

Would you vote for Imran Khan?

  • Yes, absolutely (83%, 1,578 Votes)
  • No, not a chance in hell (11%, 208 Votes)
  • Maybe, I don’t hate him… yet (6%, 116 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,902

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/23771/5-reasons-i-still-support-imran-khan/

Published: A

Are Pakistani women clinically obsessed with clothes?

Published: July 29, 2014

The women of Pakistan, it seems, have found the reason as to why they were created – they were created to make, buy, sell, maintain, wear, show and love clothes. PHOTO: STOCK

Every evening after iftar they storm the streets in flocks, like contingent troops, with one and only one purpose alone – they want clothes, clothes and more clothes. The women of Pakistan, it seems, have found the reason as to why they were created – they were created to make, buy, sell, maintain, wear, show and love clothes.

And this sad obsession is across the board.

From lower middle income groups to the elite, they spend big chunks of their valuable time in bazaars and malls, and unanimously spend more than they afford. And Eid season sees this obsessive compulsive behaviour at its peak.

But then, can we really blame them?

At every turn of the head are billboards of women; beautiful, stick thin, photo shopped women, wearing dresses to kill.

The biggest viewership of Pakistan’s thriving morning show industry is women. Millions of Pakistani women, every morning, lap up the mostly unintelligent and fake conversations on these shows and take them as gospel truth. They also absorb each and every attitude and trend being presented by the baajis and even the bhaiyyas who are the hosts. Thus, they have started believing in a culture of collective gushing and adulation of people on the basis of what they wear, not who they are.

If they can afford the exact thing the host is wearing (even though hers might is most probably a borrowed dress – one that she will never wear again), they will get it from the same designer. If not, the women will use every ion of creativity God has given them to dojugaar and copy the design, almost flawlessly.

Women from the elite have their own issues. They are also obsessed with clothes. Only, the taste (acquired) and the social circles are different. They will kill themselves over clothes that are original, exclusive, subtle and elegant. They may not be as tacky as others and may look down upon other women, and ridicule their showy dress sense, but eventually they are equally consumed with the idea of the “I am what I wear” syndrome.

The only difference is, the elite do it in more innovative ways. They make politically and socially correct statements with their clothes if they are the activist types and use pure cottons, vegetable dyes and the works. If the social circle involves kitty parties and the trophy wives club, the style changes considerably.

Women see, breathe and dream clothes. It is no wonder then that not only is there a never ending demand for clothes, but also an incessant chain of supply in the form of dress ‘designers’; couture designers who have actually studied the art and also those who become designers by default – because… well it comes naturally to them after thinking about clothes 28 out of 24 hours a day. And then there are those who don’t really design anything but just have a darzi at home in the basement.

The problem is not with clothes. The problem is with the shift in values that is coming with it. Slowly but surely it is becoming such a big priority for women that the way they see themselves and others is changing.

I noticed this the other day when I caught myself not saying “you look very nice in this dress” to a friend, but saying “your dress is very nice”. The person was taken away from my compliment.

All that remained was the dress.

If women start viewing themselves in light of the praise their dresses get, they will continue to be preoccupied with their appearance. And this is an expensive preoccupation as well as time-consuming. I know families where a driver is employed for the sole purpose of taking baaji toGhousia market, Aashiyana and Raabi Centre.

Wardrobes are so important to females that in order to make unnecessary clothes that will keep hanging in their closets, untouched for a year, they want to earn and for that, voila, they become dress designers.

Being engrossed with clothes to a disturbing extent is an attitude that other women observe. If they cannot afford to do the same, there is an underlying resentment and unhealthy sense of competition in society. The more we raise the bar of our wardrobes, the more the economic disparity in our society.

While dressing well and looking good is actually an admirable thing, anything that crosses limits becomes toxic. Overdoing one thing means you will end up under-doing something equally or more important. The time one could spend reading, doing some form of community service, or spending unhurried moments with one’s family is spent getting exhausted, carrying bags and bags of stitched and unstitched fabric, and still worrying whether everyone will like it or not.

The next time you exhaust yourself over clothes, stop for a minute and think: Is this really worth it?

Women are naturally very good at time-management. And Pakistani women are an amazing potential work force for Pakistan. They are talented, intelligent and hardworking. If the time they put into clothes is utilised for other more productive things, it would make Pakistan a much happier place.

The spirit of Ramazan and then Eidul Fitr is all about taking away materialism from our hearts and reviving a culture of simplicity, giving and sharing.

It may be time to sit back and rethink what Eid is all about.

Are parents responsible for their children committing suicide?

By Farahnaz Zahidi
April 3rd, 2014
http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/21749/are-parents-responsible-for-their-children-committing-suicide/

kid
Every year Pakistan has cases where young adults and even children commit suicide due to the pressure of getting good grades and being high-performers.
“Hum maaon ko sub kuch chahiye… sub kuch.”

(We mothers need everything… everything).

That is how disturbing certain advertisements aired on TV today are. They show a cross-section of mothers whose sense of validation and joy is dependent on their children becoming over-achievers.

Most of these advertisements are disguised with a ‘feel good’ message, the underlying message, however, is disturbing and sadly, a reflection of what our society’s parents are unwittingly morphing into – a race of achievement-hungry, hard-task masters who want their children to be their trophy to show off. The models posing as mothers stretch their necks upwards as a mark of pride and arrogance while the pressurised children push themselves harder and harder.

What do we parents actually want at the end of the day? A happy child who enjoys his school and college years, has friends and good social skills, is a responsible citizen, a good human and takes studies seriously?

If only the list would end there. But sadly, it doesn’t.

Children, from the day they are born, are our status symbols. And we tend to be misled into thinking that this is what good parenting is all about. There are certain types of body language parents display when they talk about their children.

Look around you at the times when someone asks another person which school their children go to, what the child’s hobbies are and particularly grades of the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). If your kid got As and A-stars, you make sure to ask other parents what their kid got. But if your kid is a ‘shame to the family’ because he/she got Cs and Ds, you change the topic and adopt an unsaid apologetic stance.

The child is supposed to be super human.

He or she must play soccer, get all As, have friends, be in an elite school, be a member of the drama society, play a musical instrument and of course, his or her ultimate aim in life should be going to Ivy League universities or McGill.

That is why we gave birth to them right? So that they fulfil our unfulfilled dreams.

The pressure on these young people is often underrated but it can have devastating effects. Lowered self-esteem, psychopathic fear of failure and deep-rooted depression are some. It is worse if other siblings are achievers and one child is made to feel less.

Every year Pakistan has cases where young adults and even children commit suicide due to the pressure of getting good grades and being high-performers. Most top-rated institutes have such sad cases in their records.

A heart-wrenching case in point was a news story printed yesterday. A 14-year-old child from Malakand in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) shot himself because he had failed in his exams for the third time. This incidence is surprisingly not from an urban area. I am not implying that the bereaved parents of this boy were necessarily pressurising him. I do not know and it is not my place to comment. But generally, society is pushing children towards this.

Discipline is good and so is ambition. But everything has to have both limits and balance. And striking that balance is the key. Encouraging and even nudging the child towards a better future is good.

But what if your child is one who cannot get very good grades?

What if the child goes against the parents’ plan of ‘all sciences’ and wants to choose a social science majors?

What if your child is not a go-getter?

What if your child is not making you proud in the way you want him or her to?

What’s important is that your child, at any age or stage, is making an effort and is growing into a responsible human being who may tomorrow actually end up doing very well in life, whatever the grades.

But for that, you need to be your child’s rock. Celebrate your child’s achievements and make him see hope even in the face of failure.

They say no one loves you as selflessly as parents do. Today’s over-driven, over-ambitious parents may have to prove that by having realistic expectations and a better value system in which respect is not on the basis of schools and grades.

An open letter to the Sindh Chief Minister: Tharparkar needs you, Sir

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: March 12, 2014

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/21399/an-open-letter-to-the-sindh-chief-minister-tharparkar-needs-you-sir/

Thar babies

Politicians will go back to their comfortable homes and mothers in Thar will continue to mourn over their dead babies. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

Dear Sir,

I wonder how you sleep at night, because I am, honestly, having a tough time sleeping peacefully these days.

I have visited Tharparkar a few times. And every time I came back, it took me a long time to get the images of Tharparkar out of my system. You and your government, Sir, have visited one too many times. These people have voted for you and trusted you. I wonder how you get those images out of your system.

I will not be unfair. So I have to say that visits to interior Sindh have told me enough to say that yes, you and your government did try to make things better for these people at some levels. There is the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), the Lady Health Workers (LHW) program, a more women-friendly legislation and a few scattered silver linings. But were they really enough? And in particular, for Tharparkar which was already a ticking time bomb of impending doom due to food insecurity and lack of water, did you all do enough?

Travelling to Tharparkar, one sight that was amazing was seeing flags of the political party they all love on their small, circular homes. Inside the circular homes, there would mostly be pictures of their local leaders from the same party, bleached out due to the intense Thari heat.

Last year, before the May 11, 2013 elections, in a small village near Islamkot, I asked a few of the women whom they would vote for. They giggled, covering their beautiful but weather-beaten faces with colourful chunnis (dupatta), and replied

“For the same people.”

“But are you satisfied with the work they have done?” I had asked.

“No. Not really. Par Adi, aseen ghareeb marhoon aahiyoon. Hee asaan ja wadda aahin. We cannot vote for anyone else.”

(But sister, we are poor people. They are our elders.)

The loyalty was something I couldn’t fathom with my city-centric sensibilities. But they did vote for their elders. Are their children paying a price for that loyalty? Perhaps the answer is, yes.

Listening to the breaking news about the many lives of little children snuffed out before their time, I have those images in my head again. Because I know that these children did not die in a day… they were dying all along. Even the new born ones.

They were dying because their mothers have a history of weak bones and malnourishment, because they get to drink brackish water laden with fluoride and their average meal is sun-dried red chillies crushed to a paste with roti that is not enough.

These children, who are dying, are born to mothers who have mostly lost more than one baby because they have to travel on camel backs in full term pregnancy if they need a caesarean section delivery. The nearest hospitals, Sir, are too far.

The vaccinators who are unsung heroes carry the vaccines on foot in the unbearable heat, but mostly the ice that keeps the vaccines fresh melts by the time they reach their destination. So the mothers mostly do not get tetanus vaccines on time and die from septicaemia because they have contracted infections by delivering children on the sand which is a Thari tradition. The children do not get vaccinated for deadly but preventable diseases.

The NGOs struggle to make things better in Tharparkar but they do not have enough support from the government.

You, Sir, and your government have known this all along, haven’t you?

This wave of donations is only reaching Mithi which is like a model town at the minute. The real issues are still prevalent in the small villages. Who will solve their problems, Sir? Visiting politicians in Mithi for whom lavish meals are lined up do not know the pain of someone in small villages like Maghoo Bheel where donations may never reach. These politicians also do not know how those standing in queues for hours to be handed a bag of grains are beaten with sticks or ridiculed by those distributing the donations.

You do know that what is being called a ‘drought’ or ‘famine’ is no doubt a natural calamity. But it is not like the floods or an earthquake. This is a natural disaster of which the death toll can be mitigated. But sadly no one takes notice. This disaster is related to lack of clean drinking water, Sir. I wrote a story last year about just one such village where the entire population walks with spines bent or crawls on the floor because the water they consume is too little and unfit for human consumption.

Without a word of exaggeration Sir, I called your office every day for months to get a single 15 minute appointment with you, so that this issue could be brought to your notice; all that village needed was an electricity line that could run a water filtration plant that someone had donated to them. The people of the village kept writing to you. Promises were made. In protests. On Twitter. But it was not taken seriously enough.

You must have seen Thari children, Sir, running barefoot in the desert sand or sitting in a weak looking mother’s lap. They are stunted, mostly, and look much younger than their years. Their Body Mass Index (BMI) is clearly under the required level. Their hair is brittle and their skin is parched. They cry in weak voices for no reason. Their bellies are too large for their body. Their Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) when measured tells health officials they are at a risk of dying.

The NGOs give the extremely malnourished ones high-energy food supplement biscuits. But because the entire family is so poor and food insecure, they all end up sharing it. And so, that malnourished child never regains health because his supplement is shared, morsel by morsel, by the entire famished family.

Some of these malnourished children will grow up to be mothers. They will give birth to weak, sick children. And unless someone steps up, this cycle will go on. The donors who are donating excitedly right now will soon get exhausted after media stories die out. Donor fatigue will set in. Politicians will go back to their comfortable homes. And mothers in Tharparkar will continue to mourn over their dead babies.

Just this once, can we do something lasting, Sir?